The Albert Park Circuit is a motorsport street circuit around Albert Park Lake, three kilometres south of central Melbourne. It is used annually as a circuit for the traditional Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the supporting Supercars Championship Melbourne 400 and other associated support races. The circuit has an FIA Grade 1 license. Although the entire track consists of normally public roads, each sector includes medium to high-speed characteristics more commonly associated with dedicated racetracks facilitated by grass and gravel run-off safety zones that are reconstructed annually. However, the circuit also has characteristics of a street circuit's enclosed nature due to concrete barriers annually built along the Lakeside Drive curve, in particular, where run-off is not available due to the proximity of the lake shore.
The circuit uses everyday sections of road that circle Albert Park Lake, a small man-altered lake (originally a large lagoon formed as part of the ancient Yarra River course) just south of the Central Business District of Melbourne. The road sections that are used were rebuilt before the inaugural event in 1996 to ensure consistency and smoothness. As a result, compared to other circuits that are held on public roads, the Albert Park track has quite a smooth surface. Before 2007 there existed only a few other places on the Formula 1 calendar with a body of water close to the track. Many of the new tracks, such as Valencia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi are close to a body of water.
The course is considered to be quite fast and relatively easy to drive, drivers having commented that the consistent placement of corners allows them to easily learn the circuit and achieve competitive times. However, the flat terrain around the lake, coupled with a track design that features few true straights, means that the track is not conducive to overtaking or easy spectating unless in possession of a grandstand seat.
Each year, most of the trackside fencing, pedestrian overpasses, grandstands, and other motorsport infrastructure are erected approximately two months before the Grand Prix weekend and removed within 6 weeks after the event. The land around the circuit (including a large aquatic centre, a golf course, a Lakeside Stadium, some restaurants, and rowing boathouses) has restricted access during that entire period. Dissent is still prevalent among nearby residents and users of those other facilities, and some still maintain a silent protest against the event. Nevertheless, the event is reasonably popular in Melbourne and Australia (with a large European population and a general interest in motorsport). Middle Park, the home of South Melbourne FC was demolished in 1994 due to expansion at Albert Park.
On 4 July 2008, F1 announced that more than 300,000 people attended the four-day Melbourne Grand Prix, though actual ticket sales were later disputed by the local media. There has never been a night race at Albert Park, although the 2009 and 2010 events both started at 5:00 p.m. local time. The current contract for the Grand Prix at the circuit concludes in 2025.
Following the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the track underwent layout changes, the most notable part is the modification of the Turn 9-10 complex from a heavy right-left corner to a fast-sweeping right-left corner into Turns 11 and 12. Further modifications include the widening of the pit lane by 2 metres and the reprofiling of Turn 13. Also, some corners will be widened such as Turn 1, Turn 3, Turn 6, Turn 7, and Turn 15; and it is expected that these modifications will reduce qualifying lap times by as much as 5 seconds.
A lap in a Formula One car (1996–2020 layout)
Starting on the Walker Straight, Turn 1 is a tight right-hander, followed by a quick flick to the left in Turn 2. A short straight follows, in which the cars accelerate up to 300 km/h, before Turn 3 is taken at a third of that speed. Two successive short straights lead to the left and right-handers of Turns 4 and 5, and the end of Sector 1. The next straight lasts for half a kilometre, before a 90-degree right in Turn 6. Turn 7, a small leftwards kink, leads onto a sweeping right-hander. Turns 9 and 10, a car park when not in use, form the Clark Chicane, before the long lakeside sweep right up to Turn 11, on which the cars reach 300 km/h. The next two corners are the fastest on the circuit, with drivers taking this chicane at up to 225 km/h, sustaining g-forces up to 3.5g. The straight that follows, with a small right kink in the middle, is a DRS zone (the detection point was shortly before Turn 11), before another 90-degree right in the form of Turn 13, called Ascari. After another short straight, the right-hander of Turn 14 leads to the slowest corner on the track, a tight left. The pit lane entry is located halfway between this corner and the next, a faster right-hander, which together form an extended chicane, and lead back onto the Walker Straight. The track is known for being bumpy, and in even slightly wet weather, is notoriously slippery.
During the nine months of the year when the track is not required for Grand Prix preparation or the race weekend, most of the track can be driven by ordinary street-registered vehicles either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Only the sections between turns 3, 4, and 5, then 5 and 6, differ significantly from the race track configuration. Turn 4 is replaced by a car park access road running directly from turns 3 to 5. Between turns 5 and 6, the road is blocked. It is possible to drive from turn 5 on to Albert Road and back on to the track at turn 7 though three sets of lights control the flow of this option. The only set of lights on the actual track is halfway between turns 12 and 13, where drivers using Queens Road are catered for. The chicanes at turns 11 and 12 are considerably more open than that used in the Grand Prix, using the escape roads. Turn 9 is also a car park and traffic is directed down another escape road.
The speed limit is generally 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph), while some short sections have a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph), which is still slower than an F1 car under pit lane speed restrictions. The back of the track, turns 7 to 13 inclusive, is known as Lakeside Drive. Double lines separate the two-way traffic along most of Lakeside Drive with short road islands approximately every 50 metres which means overtaking is illegal here. Black Swans live and breed in Albert Park, and frequently cross the road causing traffic delays, sometimes with up to five cygnets (young swans).
Approximately 80% of the track edge is lined with short parkland-style chain-linked fencing leaving normal drivers less room for error than F1 drivers have during race weekend. There is however substantial shoulder room between the outside of each lane and the fencing, which is used as parking along Aughtie Drive during the other nine months.
Albert Park Circuit (1953 to 1958)
Prior to World War 2, attempts were made to use Albert Park for motor racing. The first was in 1934 but failed due to opposition, and a similar attempt for a motorcycle race in 1937 similarly failed. Finally in 1953 the were able to secure use of the circuit for that year's Australian Grand Prix.
Albert Park is the only venue to host the Australian Grand Prix in both World Championship and non-World Championship formats with an earlier configuration of the current circuit used for the race on two occasions during the 1950s. During this time racing was conducted in an anti-clockwise direction as opposed to the current circuit which runs clockwise.
- 21 November 1953 - Featuring the 1953 Australian Grand Prix, won by Doug Whiteford (Talbot-Lago T26C)
- 26 & 27 March 1955 - The first Moomba meeting, which involved an alliance with the Moomba festival and The Argus newspaper - featuring the Moomba TT, won by Doug Whiteford (Triumph TR2) and the Argus Trophy, also won by Doug Whiteford (Talbot-Lago)
- 11 March & 18 March 1956 - The second Moomba meeting - featuring the 1956 Moomba TT, won by Tony Gaze (HWM Jaguar), and, on the second weekend, the 1956 Argus Trophy, won by Reg Hunt (Maserati 250F)
- 25 November & 2 December 1956 - featuring the 1956 Australian Tourist Trophy, won by Stirling Moss (Maserati 300S) and, on the second weekend, the 1956 Australian Grand Prix, also won by Stirling Moss (Maserati 250F)
- 17 & 24 March 1957 - The third Moomba meeting - featuring the Victorian Tourist Trophy won by Doug Whiteford (Maserati 300S), and the Victorian Trophy, won by Lex Davison (Ferrari 500). The Victorian Trophy was retrospectively designated as the second round of the 1957 Australian Drivers' Championship
- 23 & 30 November 1958 - Featuring the 1958 Victorian Tourist Trophy, won by Doug Whiteford (Maserati 300S), and, on the second weekend, the 1958 Melbourne Grand Prix, (a round of the 1958 Australian Drivers' Championship), won by Stirling Moss (Cooper Coventry Climax)
1958 was the final year of the original incarnation of the circuit, with racing ending due to a negative campaign lead by the press.
Race lap records
As of 16 March 2019, the official race lap records at the Albert Park Circuit are listed as:
- "Albert Park". ESPN UK. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- "Where is the Australian Grand Prix Circuit?". f1chronicle.com. 19 January 2021. Archived from the original on 10 April 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
- "Albert Park, Melbourne". racingcircuits.info. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
- "List of FIA Licensed Circuits" (PDF). FIA. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
- "The Albert Park Circuit". The F1 Fansite. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
- "Middle Park Stadium". austadiums.com. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
- "Australian Grand Prix contract extension: Formula 1 to race in Melbourne until at least the end of 2025 | Formula 1®". formula1.com.
- "Albert Park F1 layout will change for 2021 Australian GP". motorsport.com. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
- "New Albert Park layout will be five seconds faster". motorsport.com. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
- "Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit". formula1.com/. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
- Walker, Terry (1995). Fast Tracks. Sydney: Turton & Armstrong. p. 10. ISBN 0908031556.
- Stuart Sykes, It was - and still is - a great place for a race, Racing into History, A look back at the 1953 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, 2013, page3 & 4
- Official Souvenir Programme, XVIIIth Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park Circuit, 21 November 1953, front cover
- 1953, The official 50-race history of the Australian Grand Prix, 1986, pages 182 to 191
- Official Programme, Argus Moomba Motor Car Races, Albert Park Circuit, 26 & 27 March 1955, front cover
- Argus Moomba Motor Races, Australian Motor Sports, April 1955, pages 137 - 142
- Thrills for 250,000, The Argus, Monday, 28 March 1955, page 1
- JR Horman, Albert Park, Australian Motor Sports, April 1956, pages 136 to 143
- Albert Park, www.progcovers.com Retrieved on 10 July 2014
- 1956, The official 50-race history of the Australian Grand Prix, 1986, pages 218 to 226
- Programme, Victorian Tourist Trophy, First Day: 17th March 1957
- AC Russell, Albert Park - Victorian Tourist Trophy Meeting, Australian Motors Sports, page 131
- Victorian Trophy, Australian Motor Sport, May 1957, pages 174 to 176
- John B Blanden, Historic Racing Cars in Australia, 1979, pages 146 & 147
- Graham Howard, Lex Davison – larger than life, page 117
- Official Programme, 1958 Melbourne Grand Prix / Victorian Tourist Trophy, Albert Park Circuit, page 3
- David McKay, Quick money for Moss, Modern Motor, February 1959, pages 35, 36, 37 & 76
- "Natsoft Race Timing". natsoft.com.au. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- "Procar Stats" (PDF). procar.com.au. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 June 2004. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- Australian Tourist Trophy, Australian Motor Sports, January 1957, pages 18 to 20